This past June, my husband and I (Erin) had the crazy idea to travel from Maryland to Texas with a baby, a toddler, and a 5 and six year old, and, oh yes, the family dog. Because that sounds like fun. With over 100 hours in a van, 3 hotel stays, and 5 viewings of Zootopia, I am happy to report that we survived, and I’d love to give you a few tricks and tips we picked up along the way!
For someone who likes to plan, a road trip half way across the country was like my Super Bowl. Ha! I started months in advance because I knew there were tons of details to think about, and I kept everything together in a little notebook. Steve only made fun of me a little bit, but he also knew that it would be a huge payoff in the end (and the fact that he didn’t have to do it, was a big plus.) I kept this book with me even on the trip, so packing up to come home was a breeze!
For the boys, I slowly started to gather things they would need for the car, like lap desks and book bags. The lap desks were personalized with dollar store placemats that were easily wipeable.
Each boy got one book bag, and they would be in charge of that bag for the entirety of the trip. Each bag had extra clothes, their electronics and chargers, and a book or toy. This, along with travel pillows, would be what went into all the hotels, and helped me stay organized!
When you’re traveling close to a holiday weekend, make sure to book your hotel rooms in advance (for us it was July 4th.) This way, we knew we had a room waiting for us, and could plan our trip around it. I put all the hotel confirmations (as well as ticket confirmations for other activities) in a binder and kept it in the car during our travels.
Car packing was an adventure, but we did a couple of dry runs to see what we could actually pack, and if I could get my sit-and-stand stroller into the back of the van. I knew we’d be doing a ton of day trips in Texas, and that stroller was a top priority for me, so to get it to fit was the goal! (Good news, it did!)
We took the seat behind the passenger seat out of the van, so we could have a nice wide open space on that side. This gave us room for diaper changing, clothes changing, a quick place to sit the baby down, and most importantly, a place for a pup to chill during the trip.
I purchased a behind-the-seat organizer that held diapers, wipes, hand sanitizer, burp cloths, a changing pad, and a small first aid kit. This was perfect for those quick car diaper changes! We also made sure to have a trash can in the car, and dumped it out at each rest stop. This kept the car relatively clean and not cluttered with trash (since we already had a lot of stuff.)
One of the other important things we had was a “clean up bag”. This bag had paper towels, Lysol wipes, baby wipes, a towel, air freshener, and some trash bags for those “just in case” moments. With four kids and a dog, we wanted to be ready for any mess that could happen!
During the Ride
One of the things I made ahead of time was a road trip marker. We all know that kids love asking “are we there yet” and this eliminated that issue! I printed and cut images of our various destinations, laminated them, then attached them to the road strip with Velcro. We attached the whole thing with painters tape, and as the drive went on, our little van traveled along, marking each destination.
I had prepared activity binders for the three kids to use during the trip (which you’ll read about tomorrow!) but honestly the biggest savior for us was the van dvd player and the boys’ electronics. You know how at home you limit electronics time and want to keep everything in moderation? Yeah, that rule flies out the window when you’re in a car for hours upon hours. When the younger two would nap, the older boys would pull out their DS’s and play quietly, or we would put on a movie that timed well with how long it was to a destination, so we could say “at the end of this movie, we’ll be at the hotel.”
The other secret weapon? Snacks. We didn’t stop for lunches, because we literally just kept throwing snacks at them, especially the toddler. (No, really, I literally had to throw snacks from the front seat to the back seat. My aim rocks.) Full bellies, happy kids.
Every two hours we stopped and got out to stretch our legs. Rest stop, gas station, convenience store, it didn’t matter. All six of us would get out (one would hold the baby of course), and we would walk around. If it was a rest stop, I ran the boys. Laps, jumping jacks, races around the trees, it didn’t matter as long as I could get them moving and get some energy out! After each stop, they got to pick something out of the “prize box” (a bunch of dollar store toys that I had kept hidden) and they were occupied for a little bit with the new toy. Getting out of the car, even for a little bit, really helped morale. It made the trip longer of course, but it kept the kids from breaking down on us, which was definitely more important.
We spent at least 100 hours in a van with a baby, a toddler, a kindergartner, and a first grader, as well as our family dog. There were meltdowns of course, and moments when Steve and I looked at each other and just said, “what the heck were we thinking?”, but really, we felt a sense of pride that we were able to conquer this! But maybe next year, we’ll stick a little bit closer to home. 😉